2021 ECHO annual meeting

Join your neighbors for the ECHO annual meeting! We will begin the process of an election for board members and discuss neighborhood issues. Councilwoman Jennifer Bruzan Taylor will be in attendance for a membership discussion regarding traffic, transportation, and other matters involving our neighborhood.

The meeting will be held via Zoom webinar on Thursday, October 8 at 7pm. Advance registration is required. Register by clicking this link.

Lead pipes within ECHO

Many homes within ECHO were originally constructed with a lead water service line leading from the water main to the connection point inside the home. While most of these have been replaced as part of a remodeling or teardown project, dozens of lead service lines remain in place throughout our neighborhood and those nearby. Having a lead service line does not necessarily mean you will have lead in your water, but it does indicate that you may be at greater risk if your lead service line is disrupted. The City of Naperville’s water supply remains safe and tests below minimum acceptable lead levels. However, the EPA continues to state that there is no safe level of exposure to lead.

In May 2021, the Illinois General Assembly passed HB 3739, the Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act. This bill has been sent to the Governor and is expected to become law this summer. In preparation for compliance, the City of Naperville is performing additional research and planning. After the Act is signed and becomes effective, it will require all lead service lines within Naperville to be replaced within 15 years, with a minimum of 7% replaced each year (20-24 homes). In nearly all cases, the entire service line must be replaced.

Generally, lead service line replacement will take place at the same time water mains are replaced. City staff are expected to propose a standalone lead service replacement program for areas not scheduled for water main replacement, subject to approval by City Council.

After the passage of water protection legislation in 2016, the City was required to create a lead service line inventory. The City has recently learned that lead water service lines were not prohibited in Naperville until 1960; originally, the local prohibition was thought to have taken place in 1930. A searchable online map has been created to show whether a home is known to have a lead service line, viewable at https://naperville-echo.org/leadpipemap 

To view the recent City Manager’s Memorandum with more details on HB 3739 and the City’s plans to comply, visit https://naperville-echo.org/leadpipememo

The City of Naperville offers a Lead Rebate Program! Up to $4,250 is available to a homeowner upon completion of lead service line replacement. For more information, visit https://naperville-echo.org/leadpipes or call the City at (630) 420-4122.

Holiday luminaria event

ECHO is organizing a holiday luminaria event for New Year’s Eve! Please see the full invitation letter and order form below. Orders are due Monday, November 30.

https://www.naperville-echo.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/ECHO-luminaria-letter-2020.pdf

2020 ECHO annual meeting

Join your neighbors for the ECHO annual meeting! We will begin the process of an election for board members and discuss neighborhood issues.

The meeting will be held via Zoom webinar on Thursday, October 8 at 7pm. Advance registration is required. Register by clicking this link.

Minor amendments to the ECHO bylaws will be proposed at the meeting. This is a summary of the changes:

  • Change the name of the association to East Central Homeowners Organization to be consistent with our legal registration as an Illinois Not-For-Profit Corporation
  • Allow dues paid in the fourth quarter of a calendar year to include membership for the following calendar years
  • Provide flexibility for the fiscal year to be the period between annual meetings
  • Clarify that the number of board members should be an odd number to facilitate reaching majority votes, with one-half and an even number elected in odd-numbered years, and one-half and an odd number elected in even-numbered years
  • To further the interests of the neighborhood, ECHO participates in public meetings of governmental and other civic organizations. To avoid having to change the bylaws each time the name of a government or civic organization changes, the detailed list of organizations was removed.

Position on Heritage Place to be presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission

ECHO is a group of residents whose purpose is to preserve the residential community atmosphere and character of our neighborhood. Further, ECHO supports the promotion and protection of the historical properties within its boundaries. The officially designated Naperville Historic District lies within the boundaries of ECHO. This District has special legal protections, designed to ensure its continuance as an historic neighborhood.

We do not support the conditional use for townhomes in the R2 zoning district. We also do not support the variance requests for lot area, front yard setback, and height to exceed the maximum number of stories.

ECHO distributed a survey in mid-August to seek feedback from our residents regarding this development proposal and what they value most about living in or near the Historic District. 94% of those responding do not support this development as proposed.

Survey respondents support the inclusion of a park and green space. The park provided within this development would be significantly larger than the former College Park, which was removed from the site earlier this year. The respondents also support the rear-loading garages of the townhome units, which are in keeping with the character of our neighborhood.

The most significant concerns from our residents are density and the proposal not fitting in with the neighborhood. The clear preference from our residents is to have single-family homes built on this site, which exists in the heart of a predominantly single-family neighborhood. The proposed density, when combined with reduced setbacks, are not in keeping with the character of the Historic District and the greater ECHO neighborhood.

In making the case for the conditional use and zoning variances, the petitioner repeatedly cites the current intense use of the property in comparison to the proposed use as the primary factor why the standards for a zoning variance are met. While the proposed use of the property would be less intense than the current use in terms of traffic and number of persons typically onsite, it does not necessarily follow that the proposed redevelopment will not be a substantial detriment to adjacent property. 39-foot buildings with reduced front yard setbacks are a substantial change from the current site conditions and are intense in their own right. The present peak use of this site is limited to a few hours each weekday during pickup and drop-off periods. Conversion to a high-density residential use makes the site more active during times when it is currently unoccupied.

Minimum lot area is effectively the density requirement for the R2 zoning district. The original plan submission with 47 units consisted of 12.4 units per acre. The most recent change with the reduction of two units barely reduces this, to 11.9 units per acre. City planning documents generally consider low-density residential to be less than 2.5 units per acre, and high-density residential to be more than eight units per acre. As noted in the City staff report for the HPC meeting, decreasing the number of townhome units to 41 would eliminate the need for this variance request.

Front yard setbacks vary throughout the Historic District. However, the vast majority of the homes throughout the District are in compliance with the 25-foot front yard setback and the 15-foot corner side yard setback. There are very few examples of reduced setbacks in the blocks surrounding this property. Homes with front yard setbacks less than 25 feet are much more common on the blocks to the west of North Central College, including those along Center and Ellsworth Streets.

Finally, the petitioner makes their argument for the height variance based on other developments which have come to market with rooftop decks. The zoning code defines practical difficulties or hardships as those not generally found on other properties within the zoning district. Zoning variances are typically granted when there is a hardship related to existing conditions on the lot. To put it simply, competitive disadvantage is not a zoning-related hardship.

60% of our residents indicated that their top reason for choosing to live in or near the Historic District is for the look and feel of the neighborhood. If this development proposal is not economically viable with units reduced and setbacks compliant with zoning code, ECHO submits that the demolition of Kroehler Mansion may be a better long-term solution for preserving the character of the neighborhood while permitting respectful new construction.

We appreciate the communication from the attorney for the petitioner, and we thank the Planning and Zoning Commission for its time and service to the community.

Position on Heritage Place

Ram West Capital seeks to redevelop the Little Friends property into Heritage Place, a 47-unit townhome community. 12 new buildings would be constructed consisting of 44 townhome units, while the Kroehler Mansion would be renovated and divided into three additional townhome units.

The Heritage Place development application includes two matters for approval:

  • A Certificate of Appropriateness for the proposed exterior facade changes to the Kroehler Mansion and the proposed exterior facade of the townhome units (COA 20-2321)
  • A conditional use for townhomes in the R2 zoning district, and zoning variances for lot area requirements, front yard setback requirements, and maximum number of stories (PZC 20-1-061)

ECHO supports the proposed exterior facade changes to the Kroehler Mansion. The scope of the renovation includes detailed plans to restore many of the elements of the original 1910 construction. This would be a considerable improvement over current conditions.

ECHO also supports the proposed exterior facade of the townhome units. The building plans borrow a number of design elements from the Kroehler Mansion and incorporate them into the facades, without trying to replicate the Mansion itself. This design has the potential to be complementary to the neighborhood.

We do not support the conditional use for townhomes in the R2 zoning district. We also do not support the variance requests for lot area, front yard setback, and height variance to exceed the maximum number of stories.

ECHO distributed a survey in the week prior to the August 27 HPC meeting to seek feedback from our residents regarding this development proposal and what they value most about living in or near the Historic District. The majority of our neighborhood does not support this development as proposed.

Residents support the inclusion of a park and green space. The park provided within this development would be significantly larger than the former College Park, which was removed from the northwest corner of Columbia and School Streets in January 2020. The residents also support the rear-loading garages of the townhome units, which are in keeping with the character of our neighborhood.

It has been noted repeatedly that flooding has occurred at the corner of Wright and School Streets for years, exacerbated by the relatively recent addition of more impervious surface in the northwest portion of the Little Friends property. This townhome development would tie into the City stormwater system utilizing an underground vault. It has the potential to do more to mitigate existing stormwater issues in the area than a collection of 20 new single-family homes would. In addition, the intensity of use will clearly be much lower than existing conditions.

That said, a majority of residents do not support the proposed density and setbacks of this development. The requested 15-foot front yard setback, with a permitted encroachment for a five-foot porch, is not in keeping with the character of the great majority of the Historic District.

Minimum lot area is effectively the density requirement for the R2 zoning district. The plan submission notes that the proposed development consists of 12 units per acre. City planning documents generally consider low-density residential to be less than 2.5 units per acre, and high-density residential to be more than eight units per acre. As noted in the City staff report, decreasing the number of townhome units to 41 would eliminate the need for this variance request.

In making the case for the zoning variances, the petitioner repeatedly cites the current intense use of the property in comparison to the proposed use as the primary factor why the standards for a zoning variance are met. While the proposed use of the property would undoubtedly be less intense than the current Little Friends use in terms of traffic and number of persons typically onsite, it does not necessarily follow that the proposed redevelopment will not be a substantial detriment to adjacent property. A 39-foot building set 15 feet away from the property line is a substantial change from the current site conditions, and is intense in its own right.

The fact that adjacent properties are across the street does not necessarily mitigate the reduction in front yard setbacks. This is particularly notable given the narrow right-of-way on the School Street frontage, reducing the parkway width considerably. The coach house building at the northern edge of the property is one story on the side closest to the street, and sits seven feet back from the property line. An additional five feet of sidewalk and six feet of parkway make the distance to School Street approximately 18 feet. On the Franklin Street side, the distance between the street and the existing Krejci Academy structure is considerably larger. Krejci Academy is 42 feet tall and sits approximately 25-1/2’ feet from the property line. Add a five-foot sidewalk and a 15-foot parkway, and the distance from the building to the street is a little over 40 feet.

We also invite residents and the Commission to review the existing Krejci Academy facade on Franklin Street, and to consider whether its height of 42 feet would be acceptable if it were 10 feet closer to the street, as this development proposes something very similar.

Front yard setbacks vary throughout the Historic District. However, the vast majority of the homes throughout the District are in compliance with the 25-foot front yard setback and the 15-foot corner side yard setback. There are very few examples of reduced setbacks in the blocks surrounding the Little Friends property. Homes with front-yard setbacks less than 25 feet are much more common on the blocks to the west of North Central College, including those along Center and Ellsworth Streets.

Lastly, the petitioner makes their argument for the height variance based on other developments which have come to market with rooftop decks. The zoning code defines practical difficulties or hardships as those not generally found on other properties within the zoning district. Zoning variances are typically granted when there is a hardship related to existing conditions on the lot. To put it simply, competitive disadvantage is not a zoning-related hardship.

If this development proposal is not economically viable with setbacks increased, ECHO submits that the demolition of Kroehler Mansion may be a better long-term solution for preserving the character of the neighborhood while permitting respectful new construction.

We appreciate the communication from the attorney for the petitioner and the development team, and we thank the Historic Preservation Commission for its time and service to the community.

Heritage Place elevation with black windows

Little Friends redevelopment proposal

Little Friends, Inc. has entered into a contract to sell their campus to Ram West Capital LLC pending certain contingencies, including the approval of redevelopment plans by the City of Naperville. Ram West is working with DJK Custom Homes on plans to develop Heritage Place, a 47-unit community of rowhomes.

The Kroehler Mansion would be renovated and converted from its current use into a three-unit rowhome. 12 additional rowhome buildings with an additional 44 units would be constructed on the rest of the property, for a total of 47 units. A public park, maintained by the Naperville Park District, is a part of the concept.

Approval of a Certificate of Appropriateness, a conditional use, and three zoning variances will be necessary for the current Heritage Place concept:

  • Almost all of our neighborhood is zoned R2, for single-family and low-density multi-family residence district; this means that single-family homes and duplexes are permitted by right. A conditional use is required in order to construct single-family attached dwellings (townhomes or rowhomes) within R2 zoning.
  • The developer is seeking a variance for a 15-foot front yard setback. The required setback within R2 zoning is 25 feet.
  • The developer is seeking a variance for interior side yard setbacks. For subdivisions which applied for a plat prior to January 27, 1989, which includes almost all of our neighborhood, the interior side yard setback within R2 zoning was 6 feet. That means a minimum of 12 feet between buildings. For subdivisions created after this date, the requirement is 16 feet total for 2 side yards, with each side yard being a minimum of 6 feet. The developer is requesting that the pre-1989 rules be applied to this proposal.
  • The developer is seeking a variance from the minimum lot area requirement. R2 zoning requires a minimum of 4,000 square feet of lot area per dwelling unit (note: this is lot area, different from living area) for single-family attached dwelling units. The current proposal includes a lot area per unit of 3,515 square feet, necessitating a variance.

A Certificate of Appropriateness will be sought from the Historic Preservation Commission, followed by Planning and Zoning Commission review, and final approval by the City Council.

The approximate timeline is as follows:

  • Monday, August 10: The petitioner’s attorney will be meeting with the immediate neighbors via Zoom webinar. An invitation has been mailed to adjacent property owners. Advance registration is required and attendance is restricted to immediate neighbors only.
  • Wednesday, August 12 at 6pm: The petitioner’s attorney will be meeting with residents within ECHO boundaries, also via Zoom webinar. This meeting is open to all of ECHO, but advance registration is again required. ECHO residents are strongly encouraged to register, attend, ask questions, and provide input. A registration link has been provided to ECHO members via email.
  • Thursday, August 27: This proposal is currently expected to go before the Historic Preservation Commission at the August 27 meeting. This date is subject to change. ECHO will keep residents updated, but you are also encouraged to sign up for HPC agenda notices at the City of Naperville’s website.
  • Planning and Zoning Commission review and City Council approval could follow in subsequent months. These dates are not yet set. Again, ECHO will provide information to residents, but you are encouraged to sign up for meeting notices from the City.

The ECHO board has been in contact with the involved parties, and has recently met twice to discuss the Heritage Place concept. Residents are asked to consider the following before the upcoming neighborhood meetings:

  • Are the proposed setbacks sufficient? (15 feet front yard, 6 feet interior side yard)
  • Is the height of the buildings in keeping with the neighborhood aesthetic?
  • How will the density (47 units) of the proposed development affect traffic and infrastructure?
  • What is the construction timeline? How will the multiple phases of development affect the neighborhood?
  • How much green space will remain?
  • How will stormwater be managed?
  • Is preserving Kroehler Mansion a priority for ECHO residents, or is it more desirable to have a development that fits in with the neighborhood?

All ECHO residents are invited to register for the August 12 neighborhood meeting via Zoom. Please note that this meeting is restricted to ECHO residents. If you are an ECHO resident who has not received the registration link, please email the board at the address at the top of this page.

If you have questions or comments for the ECHO board about this or any other neighborhood matter, please contact us.

Position on DJK Homes development concept for Little Friends property

The ECHO board met via teleconference on Saturday, May 16 to discuss the business terms and concept plan that are before the City Council for feedback, and to consider the resident input we have received.

Little Friends continues to seek the entire $562,000 incentive for preservation of the Kroehler Mansion, despite the fact that the difference in highest offers for the property with and without the mansion is $450,000. Disbursement of any portion of the incentive should be contingent upon a development proposal that is respectful of both the mansion and the neighborhood. If the purpose of the incentive is to promote preservation of the mansion, any development concept should include the mansion as the architectural centerpiece.

Alleys are a key design characteristic of our neighborhood. ECHO respects and concurs with the willingness of City staff to consider a dead-end alley in order to accommodate preservation of the Mansion in its current location, and to preserve the detached alley-loading garage design visible throughout the Historic District.

Regarding existing garages, Naperville’s Historic Building Design and Resource Manual states the following: “Most historic garages in Naperville are detached structures accessed from alleys and are typically constructed with the same materials and detailing as the main house.” Regarding new garages, the manual states, “In general, garages in Naperville’s historic neighborhoods should be detached and be located at the rear of a lot. Access to garages should be achieved through the alley, except for garages on corner lots that can have access onto the secondary (corner side) street.” In both cases, adding new driveway access from the street adjacent to the front yard of a lot, or constructing an attached garage, are discouraged by the design manual. The manual clearly states that anything considered “discouraged” is not likely to be approved for a Certificate of Appropriateness. As presented, the concept is not consistent with the neighborhood.

The creation of an appropriate design guidebook will be critical to the success of new residential development on this block. While the Community First Workbook for Successful Redevelopment is laudable, it is merely a set of guidelines which are often not followed in new construction, and does not address all issues specific to our neighborhood. Additionally, Ram West and DJK’s intention to “sample architectural elevations” is concerning. It leaves the potential to combine elements from a variety of periods, creating a hodgepodge design that does not truly fit within the neighborhood. This has already been seen with the new construction that has stalled at 26 N. Sleight, originally started by DJK but now being finished by another builder. This design was inaccurately called “vernacular” during public hearings, and was denied by the Historic Preservation Commission for not being consistent with Historic District guidelines before being overturned by City Council. The Historic Building Design and Resource Manual, not the Community First guidebook, should be the primary governing document used in determining the appropriate architecture and design for new residential development in the Historic District.

ECHO cautions against allowing administrative approval for new construction in the Historic District. If DJK wishes to avoid obtaining a Certificate of Appropriateness for each building permit, all designs and elevations should first be presented to the Historic Preservation Commission and granted a COA before any construction commences. The HPC approval process should not be short-circuited.

City staff are correct that there are no unique circumstances meriting waiver of required school and park donations. The intent of impact fees is to require development to pay for itself, recognizing that new property value alone does not fully accomplish this. Earlier this year, Little Friends chose to terminate its lease with the Naperville Park District; this decision on their part required that College Park be demolished. This decision was made without advance notice to residents. It has resulted in the loss of a valuable playground and green space, with a corresponding reduction in quality of life for our neighborhood. No replacement park is being proposed. Any new development is likely to generate additional children attending Ellsworth School. ECHO residents are not in favor of required school and park donations being waived under the current proposal.

ECHO also concurs with City staff opinion regarding stormwater requirements and utility improvements. We expect that any developer will be held to standards required by code.

One point not addressed by Ram West and DJK, but that is of concern to ECHO, is how and when construction will commence. Our nation is in a recession which may continue for quite some time. During the last economic downturn, some new subdivisions in Naperville remained unfinished for years, with completed homes dotting a largely empty landscape, and vacant parcels being inadequately maintained. New construction is always an inconvenience, even in a best-case scenario. ECHO residents do not want to see a partially-finished development languishing in the middle of an otherwise mature neighborhood. We hope that once construction commences, it will be accomplished in a single phase, without delays affecting neighbors’ quality of life.

The redevelopment of an entire city block within the Historic District is unprecedented. It presents a remarkable opportunity for creativity and preservation-minded thinking. ECHO residents are very interested in participating in the development process. To date, the ECHO board has not heard directly from DJK or any of their representatives. Regardless of the developer’s approach, we will be heavily involved as this process moves forward.

DJK Homes concept for Little Friends property

A request for feedback from Ram West Capital and DJK Custom Homes is on the City Council agenda for this coming Tuesday, May 19. (The previously reported sale to a local business owner has been terminated.)

The current concept consists of 10 new single-family homes and 17 new townhome units, with driveways and no alley. The Kroehler Mansion would be renovated into a single-family home.

Little Friends is requesting the full incentive of $562,000 previously offered by City Council to bridge the difference in offers for the property with and without the mansion preserved. The current difference in offers is $450,000.

Ram West Capital intends to not construct an alley, requests to not pay to upgrade or replace water main infrastructure, and is seeking waivers of required school and park donation fees.

DJK Homes proposal for Little Friends property

It is important to note that Council is being asked to consider these terms and provide feedback; this is not yet a development application or approval. Any development proposal will still be subject to review by the Historic Preservation Commission, Planning and Zoning Commission, and finally by City Council. The agenda item can be viewed on the City’s website.

The ECHO board will be discussing this matter during a conference call on Saturday evening, May 16. We have already heard from some neighbors but we are seeking as much input as possible! Please provide feedback to the board by replying to this email or by sending comment to board@naperville-echo.org.